This 88-year-old woman just earned her master’s degree in theology: ‘If you don’t work, you’re idle’

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Wearing a graduation cap and gown, Molly Sutkaitis smiles under her mask as she receives her diploma at St. Joseph’s Chapel in Toronto.

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The 88-year-old earned a master’s degree in theological studies from the University of Toronto and Regis College on Saturday, becoming one of the oldest in Canada to earn a bachelor’s degree.

“When I went there to get my diploma, I was terrified,” she said. “But I told myself I worked for it and I earned it.”


And worked for it, he did.

The degree of psoriatic arthritis began two decades ago. Every day for nearly 18 years, like clockwork, she left her home in Etobicoke at 9 a.m. and took the bus and subway to Regis College’s downtown campus.

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She was embedded within the tight-knit community of the college. Everyone knew her simply as “Molly,” and she was easily recognizable by the pair of ski poles she uses as a walking aid, says her daughter, Angela.

Sutkaitis spent most of his days in the university library – occasionally stopping by the nearby YMCA for an afternoon swim – and only returned home at 10 p.m.

“He’s a go-getter,” said Angela. “She has been a huge inspiration to me and many others.”

When the pandemic hit in early 2020, she continued her studies online with the help of her family friend Dorothy Kirby, who went to all of her Zoom courses with psoriatic arthritis and helped her navigate the online format.

“The students really respect and admire him,” Kirby said. “When I had to pick up some books for Molly in the library, one of the women said to me, ‘I want to be like this when I grow up.’ ,

A teacher for most of his life, Sutkaitis received a diploma in education in Glasgow. She taught English as a second language for 37 years at the Toronto Catholic District School Board, and worked as a supply teacher for several years after her retirement.

“She fought for retirement,” said her daughter, Angela, with a laugh. “She fought to give anything.”

But theology has been a subject she’s wanted to explore since she was a little girl. Growing up in Scotland, Sutkitis’ grandfather used to bring her at large every day.

“In the beginning I was totally bored,” she said. “But my grandfather then told me (of the scripture) in simple, childish language that our father’s wavelength is meant to convey the importance of being on God, and I think it was my own maturity at a very young age. It was a huge step forward.”

As a young child, Sutkaitis says she often spoke to God in the midst of air raids on Glasgow during World War II.

“I asked myself a lot of questions about how I perceived my relationship with God,” she said. “You never knew the bomb would fall on the shelter where you were hiding.”

For Sutkaitis, the war was a turning point in his life in more ways than one.

“I even asked myself, ‘If I survive this, what am I going to do,'” she said.

Apart from earning a degree, Sutkaitis is also an avid storyteller, a hobby he picked up from his grandfather. She is a member of The Guild of Sacred Storytellers and participates in Storytelling 1001 Friday Nights,

she gives her voice too The Raging Grannies, an international activist movement led by seniors who often appear in protest of social justice in their notoriously flamboyant clothing.

“If you don’t work, you are useless,” said Sutkaitis, reflecting on his activities.

So what’s next for psoriatic arthritis? The old lady says she is considering pursuing a PhD or other master’s degree. But one thing is for sure: she never wants to stop learning.

With 88 years of life experience, Sutkaitis says there’s a nugget of wisdom she wants to share with others: “You can’t love someone else until you love yourself.”

Joshua Chong is a reporter for the Toronto-based Star’s Radio Room. Reach Joshua via email: [email protected]

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